7. Respecting Diverse Talents and Ways of Knowing: TLT Ideas

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Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas"

The seventh principle is 'respecting diverse talents and ways of learning.' Students are different from one another. In different ways, each of them needs "the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily." In what ways has technology been used in your courses or at your institution that, directly or indirectly, help all students learn despite their differences and/or in ways that take advantage of their differences? Have you had success with a technique or tool you don't see here? something a few other faculty would love to hear about? Please tell us about it. You don't need to be the first - just the first to share the idea.

PS. We've written a short article summarizing techniques that faculty can use with technology in order to recognize, respond to, and even take instructional advantage of the many differences among students.

Assignments that Give Students a Choice

  • I utilize web quests and multimedia presentations as a way to infuse the curriculum with diverse viewpoints. American Indian students can develop a culturally-relevant project that often will leave a lasting impression on the non-native classmates. Other students will examine topics from the perspective of women and minorities. In short, the assignments encourage students to make sense of the past through the lens of their own life experiences. The full impact of these interpretations become apparent when the final presentations are made. Editor's Note: Here's a page on webquests.

  • Technology has really allowed me to act upon the idea that student's do not all need to be sitting in class doing the same activity. Students can be offered choices of activities depending on their learning styles - simulated case studies, videos, computer-aided instructional packages, and other methods can all be offered during the same period. But the best method I have found to look at "diverse talents and ways of learning" is to allow students to pick from a menu of possible assignments. I have done this using Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences: students can pick from a menu of assignments, but need to choose assignments from four out of eight "intelligences". The students love it, and I find their enthusiasm contagious.  Editor's Note: Here's a link to a good introduction to Multiple Intelligence Theory.

  • We offer students many ways to present material and make a point. From research papers written in html to access to audio, video and scanning, we encourage students to tell the story their way. Our new laptops for fall will have multimedia software on them as well as the usual software. Our Senior Portfolios are a good example of the diverse talents of our students. Editor's Note: Portfolios can provide more flexibility for assessment when different students do different kinds of work or projects to satisfy the same requirement.

  • We have evolved from the 5-paragraph essay into multi-media presentations and from static poetry into a web page w/ sounds and images illustrating one's poem. This allows all students -- even those with lower proficiency in writing, grammar, vocabulary, (like ESL students, for ex) to draw on their strengths, beef up their weaknesses, and shine. At the same time, we need students to adhere to an expected level of academic discourse and culture, and this evolves with exposure to a diverse group of classmates and instructors who encourage creativity.

  • Additionally, the use of extensive animation in PowerPoint presentations can take a static figure from the text and make it dynamic; some students have expressed their need to "see something happen" in order to learn best, and indicated that this animation makes a difficult-to-understand diagram in a textbook come alive for them.

  • Self-discovered readings allow for differences in interest, information seeking skills and available resources. Every course includes a requirement to link with a practicing professional in the field for which the student is preparing and interview that person in preparing one or more assignments. These professionals are self-discovered, allowing each student to choose someone he or she admires (which may differ greatly from person to person). The student composes the questions (around a theme) so their prior knowledge determines the depth. Mode for gathering responses and presentation methods to the class are the student's choice. Effective communication is the shared criteria.

  • In my writing courses, the oral presentation offers students a chance to depart from written prose to present their knowledge in ways that may include demonstration, visual aids, audio aids, multi-media, tactile experience, and more.  provocative presentation through other means.

  • Some students are eager to learn new skills, some are afraid to make mistakes and hold back. I try a teamwork approach as often as possible and try to balance out traditional and contemporary methods, give both equal weight to the outcome of a studentís grade.

Sometimes, Even a Choice Not to Come to Class.

  • Provision of all class materials, including lecture presentations, on-line has led to reduced class attendance but no lowering of success on evaluation instruments. I conclude that providing maximum on-line content, and a non-punitive approach toward class attendance, results in students who learn best in class coming to class and those who do not - or who learn better outside a classroom setting - not wasting time in class.  Editor's Note: On the other hand, I've heard several faculty over the years say that they've given students a choice: study together, or study alone. They then compared the grades of the two groups on later exams. Each faculty member telling the story reported that the "study together" students outscored those who preferred to study alone. It's certainly the case that some courses are better studied together (even by students who would prefer to study alone). I don't know whether that's true for all courses, however.

  • Providing maximum course content via the web has resulted in students choosing the learning method best suited for them. Students who come to class seem to be those who are well adapted to that mode of learning, while those who do best working through a presentation at three in the morning can take that route instead. 

  • Technology provides me with the ability to provide students with many options with respect to how they can learn. Students who are group oriented attend the many technology labs that are scheduled with my TAs, and can use the communications tools we provide them in Blackboard. Students who require flexibility, or prefer to deal with problems on their own, can work entirely from home--downloading lectures, using the course CD and showing up only for oral exams.

  • I strongly believe that the subset of the population that learns best in a traditional classroom is significantly over-represented in our current higher education student population. This is almost inevitable - a result of self-selection OUT of people who could not see going on to "another four years of this stuff." There is, therefore, a large non-exploited market for higher education consisting of those people who never learned well in a classroom. Clearly, a different educational paradigm is required to interest and involve this segment of the college-capable population.


  • Recently a very wonderful technological advance was utilized (by a student) in a class of mine. We were scheduled to have an exam, and I have a student who is very dyslexic. Because he is aware of and knowledgeable about his learning disability, he has purchased software that will actually read written text to him. Thus, during the exam, he was able to have a version of the exam on disk (provided by me) and a hard copy to record his answers, which allowed him to sit in the normal classroom with his computer, wearing earphones, and take the test, without the frustration and anxiety that a learning disability can often create.  Editor's note: Some faculty help students believe that each student should play a role in creating or adapting assignments.

  • We have used digitizing forms for students who need to use voice recognition software instead of hand writing, this can then be either printed and handed in or e-mailed.

  • I have two students this semester who best communicate using a computer in class and email conferencing because of severe physical limitations.

  • Technology offers many different ways to achieve the same end product. I encourage students to use both the technology they are familiar with and untried technologies to complete and/or deliver assignments. I try to be accepting of and to encourage different formats (e.g., web pages vs. a traditional research paper) and we use enabling technologies to support students with learning and/or physical disabilities.  Editorís Note: This EASI page contains resources useful for dealing with issues of disability.

Flexibility in Time

  • The computer allows students to work at their own pace plus communicate with faculty at their own level and time.

  • Editorís Note: Many students, including students whose native language isnít English, (or students whose instructor has a native language that isnít English) are handicapped by the rapid pace of spoken English.  The Web and e-mail give these people the time to think about what has been ďsaidĒ and time to decide how to respond.

Providing a Variety of Kinds of Materials Plus Help from a Variety of Sources

  • I make sure that there are a variety of assignments in every course I teach. Technology allows me to use lots of on-line experiments and demos, but also allows me to assign a reading from an on-line journal, or a discussion of some difficult topic in the course. In class I use lots of video clips, overheads, and demos, as well as lecture.

  • I can use technology, especially the use of online resources, to create learning tasks that call on students to work together and to appeal to various learning styles. I've created a online case study that incorporates verbal, reflective thinking, written work, creativity and problem solving skills. I feel this supports the diversity of learners in my course.

  • The library provides online workbooks and interactive tutorials.

  • I post all lecture notes so that students can use them to take notes, take notes, or just listen and pay attention to lecture depending on what works best for their learning style.

  • Most of our visual programs are built from the textbooks. This gives visual learners the opportunity to learn visually, and the book learners to learn from the books.

  • One visually challenged student said he really appreciated being able to adjust the size of the text as he read online.

  • Many physiological processes have been simulated and/or animated. Use of such tools permits students, especially visual learners, to gain a greater appreciation of complex processes. Textbook publishers often compete with one another in providing such tools.

  • WebCT has allowed me do much more mixing of visuals and text and use both as learning tools. It has also allowed me to post study guides often made in response to specific requests or confusions. I know that these serve some students more than others and I am not taking time out of class to serve just a few but those few have what they need. E-mail also allows me to learn about specific needs more than the traditional classroom did, to respond individually to those needs, and to broadcast information to all who need it when that looks desirable.

  • One of the biggest issues in differentiation is not the fact that it needs to occur, but rather how to manage differentiation. Blackboard has provided me with the flexibility to offer alternative assignments, product development, process and grouping situations that would have been difficult to facilitate in a class that meets every two weeks or once a week. For example, with a particular assignment in which students are expected to examine a critical issue in the teaching of middle level social studies (instructional strategies, curriculum, and/or assessment) I have been able to create a task description that allows students to present their information in one of three ways -- formal paper, oral presentation, and poster session. On the Blackboard site I have been able to provide a task description, assessment criteria for each product, and supporting materials for each product. Additionally, students have the flexibility in determining the topic for which they have interest in developing more expertise. While this could have been done without technology, the management of these options would have been challenging and it is likely that I would be receiving many questions from students about the expectations and confusion over what they are expected to complete. I am also able to set up Topics on the Discussion Board that allows students to access and submit information regarding the steps they are taking to complete the assignment. Often times the students do a better job of resolving each other's questions. I also get a sense, if the students access the Discussion Board, of the common questions or issues being shared.

Some Students Learn Better by Doing "It" First and Then Learning About "It"

  • In music, the technology allows more time on music and less on theory, and therefore the ones with good ears or good piano skills experience some achievement as much as the ones who are best at abstraction and conceptualization. Editorís Note: in many fields, there are some students who have an intuitive grasp of the ultimate practice, and motivation to work on it, but who are weak in conceptual skills. These students sometimes benefit from an approach that is organize around real-world tasks or problems, and uses those to develop concepts and abstraction. This library is an example of that approach: describing the seven principles in terms of ideas that can immediately be put into practice. Cases first, abstraction second.

Helping Students Identify Their Own Strengths and Weaknesses

  • The tutorial CD is assigned for the student to establish individual strengths and weaknesses. These strengths and weaknesses are then identified by the individual student and discussed as a class wherein coping strategies and "tricks" are identified.

  • Self-tests provide students the means to assess their individual learning and focus on weaker areas.

Tailoring Resources to an Unusual Group of Students

  • 95% of our students are Chippewa Indians. We also try to bring the culture of the students into the classroom. This often involves online resources found on the web.

A Mix of Communication Media Can Open Conversation to More Kinds of Students

  • Some students are more comfortable asking questions in e-mail than in person or during class -- others are just the opposite.

  • Since I work with Blackboard, I see the advantage of 24/7 access. It also allows students who need more reinforcement, to go over the PowerPoint Presentation again, reread the assignments, read the posted reserve readings. It allows the shy student, time to formulate his/her thoughts and post them in the Discussion Board. It allows those students who suffer from a speech impediment, hearing loss, special needs to have their ideas carry the same weight as those who freely speak up in class.

  • The sorts of electronic means I have been describing: email, discussion boards, web exchanges -- all of these absolutely provide the means to pull in the shyest and most private of students. In our school, we have a large population of students with diagnosed learning disabilities, and the ability to think through an issue without the stress of an audience or a time frame has allowed them to experience the "back and forth" of discussion with any of the distress that can accompany that. Further, for students whose accommodations require "extended deadlines," using email to extend deadlines, but still get work before the next class meeting has helped ME to move all students together from one stage in the curriculum to the next.

  • Those students who are not as verbal as others have enjoyed being graded on both in-class and online discussions.

Dealing with Differences
  • We provide instruction in dialogue principles. By using asynchronous discussion boards, a few males can not simply dominate floor time as sometimes happens in the fixed-time format of the traditional classroom. For many on-line discussions, more participation occurs when punctuation, spelling, and grammar requirements are suspended. We also give students some instruction in multicultural issues, teaching students how to ask questions to clarify/resolve conflicts and to focus agreement/disagreement on ideas and not on people.

Helping students learn from their differences

  • Within several of my classes, students are responsible for group projects that require the use of Internet searches. As I they do these assignments, I emphasize that they each may have a different searching technique, some of which may be more useful than others, and that they should learn from each other in how to best gain information.

Some materials and forms of assessment may be more open to students of varied talents than are others

  • By using a final web-project in my language classes to replace a traditional final exam, those students who are not good test-takers, are able to show what they've learned without the restrictions of a two-hour time period.

P.S. Faculty Have Diverse Talents and Ways of Teaching

  • Editorís Note: This survey question only asked about students. But faculty have diverse talents and ways of teaching, too.  For a fledgling web site on how different faculty use technology differently, see ďPersonalizing Pedagogy

Please send your suggestions, especially your TLT ideas, to Steve Ehrmann (ehrmann @ tltgroup.org).

Return to Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas for Improving Teaching and Learning"


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